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Recovering addicts fight for child custody after getting clean

SEATTLE -- For many addicts, the trigger is trauma. For Alise Hegle, it was getting raped in the sixth grade.

"I just remember after that I felt like so much garbage, I just felt like garbage," Hegle said.

She spiraled into addiction and bounced from juvenile detention to the streets to jail. Then she gave birth to a baby girl.

"I just remember holding her for about 30 seconds and then she was automatically placed into foster care and someone came in and told me, 'You can't have your kid.'"

Hegle is one of four Seattle-area parents sharing with Sen. Patty Murray their struggles with addiction, the current system and how it impacts their children. Each of these parents had lost custody of their children because of that struggle.

"The toughest thing I've ever had to do was get off of drugs," said Shrounda Selivanoff, whose son ended up in foster care because of her addiction to crack and heroin. "The second toughest thing I've had to do is I've had to take in my son's child. Currently I have a newborn in my house because my son is addicted to opiates. So my story continues. It doesn't end now that I've gotten sober."

Each of these parents has taken their painful experiences and turned it into a positive, helping other families currently going through similar situations. For many of them, they lacked the proper resources and are advocating for change.

Murray is working at the national level to stop the cycle of addiction using these personal stories and turning them into policy. Her bipartisan bill on the opioid crisis passed through committee last week, but some say the legislation doesn't go far enough.

"This is obviously, to me, just a beginning step in dealing with an addiction disease that we have in this country that we will be dealing with for a long time to come," Murray said. "This is a major first step; a lot more work to do."

The bill is comprised of 40 proposals but little funding. The senator says that's a separate fight.

Resources for addicts are key. Only one in 10 drug-addicted Americans get specialty treatment, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

Jason Bragg had asked for help and was turned away.

"The social worker told me they had families with bigger issues and they wouldn't be able to help me," he said. "Nine months later, I relapsed and was going in and out of jail and leaving my son at my mom's house."

For these parents, the message to  Murray is to keep families together whenever possible. Hegle didn't see her daughter the entire first year of her life.

"I was terrified she wouldn't know me and when I stepped into that room for my first visit with her, she held out her arms and smiled," Hegle shared. "And I knew there wasn't going to be anything that anyone can say that I wasn't going to be able to get this beautiful girl back."

They reunited for good seven months later, but it's not all happy endings.

Ashley Albert, a former foster child herself, lost her kids to adoption.

For these parents, the system is broken and they're depending on their representatives to fix it.